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story.lead_photo.caption Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin testifies before a subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee about the Treasury Departments 2020 budget request on Capitol Hill in Washington, April 9, 2019.

WASHINGTON -- The House sued the Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service on Tuesday, demanding access to President Donald Trump's tax returns and escalating a fight with an administration that has repeatedly dismissed as illegitimate its attempt to obtain the financial records.

The lawsuit moves the dispute into the federal courts after months of sniping between the Democratic-led House Ways and Means Committee, which requested and then subpoenaed the returns, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. The case may ultimately go to the Supreme Court, and its outcome is likely to determine whether financial information that Trump has kept closely guarded despite long-standing presidential tradition will be viewed by Congress and, ultimately, the public.

"In refusing to comply with the statute, defendants have mounted an extraordinary attack on the authority of Congress to obtain information needed to conduct oversight of Treasury, the IRS, and the tax laws on behalf of the American people who participate in the nation's voluntary tax system," the complaint said. It asked a judge to order the defendants to comply.

House Democrats are facing similar resistance on a broad range of investigations that include inquiries into Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian election interference and the profits gleaned from Trump's continuing business ventures.

In almost every instance, the Trump administration has argued that Congress' power to gain access to those materials is inherently limited to information that would serve "legitimate" legislative purposes -- defined by the executive branch to be limited to materials needed to help draft new laws and to exclude uncovering potential wrongdoing.

Congress retorts that its powers to compel information are far more sweeping than that and encompass oversight of important matters in general -- and that its decisions about what information it wants to subpoena are not to be second-guessed by the White House.

The same dispute is at the center of a pair of lawsuits over subpoenas to accounting and banking firms for other financial records involving the Trump Organization. Trump's lawyers have twice tried and failed to win court orders blocking subpoenas seeking records from Trump's bankers and accountants. His attorneys are appealing those rulings. A federal judge in May said U.S. lawmakers have the power to demand Trump's financial records from his accounting firm, Mazars USA LLP.

Trump was the first major presidential candidate in decades not to voluntarily release his tax returns. He has said the returns were under audit by the IRS, but that does not actually preclude him from releasing them to the public.

The chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., initially requested six years of Trump's personal and business returns in early April using a provision of the federal tax code that grants the chairmen of Congress' tax-writing committees the power to request tax information on any filer. The provision in question -- Section 6103 -- dates to the Teapot Dome scandal of the 1920s and says merely that the Treasury secretary "shall" furnish the requested material.

Neal said he needed the returns, as well as audit information from the IRS, for a study of the efficacy of the agency's mandatory presidential audit program that could potentially result in legislative changes.

Mnuchin rejected the request anyway, prompting Neal to shift tactics and counter in May by issuing subpoenas for the same material. That led to another rejection by Mnuchin. Both times, he said the requests lacked any "legitimate legislative purpose."

The House suit asks a federal judge to enforce both approaches, validating the committee's use of Section 6103 and Neal's subpoenas. It says that "numerous investigative reports have revealed that President Trump, through the complex arrangements of his personal and business finances, has engaged in multiple aggressive tax strategies and decades-long tax avoidance schemes."

The Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel last month endorsed Mnuchin's rationale with a 33-page memo. The department pointed to it again Tuesday, while otherwise declining to comment on the case. The Treasury Department did not respond to a request for comment.

In the memo, Steven Engel, the head of the office, cited comments by Neal and other Democrats that suggested, among other things, that they wanted to obtain and disclose Trump's tax returns to "'honor tradition,' show 'what the Russians have on Donald Trump,' reveal a potential 'Chinese connection,' inform tax reform legislation, provide the 'clearest picture of his financial health,'" and expose any hidden business dealings that may run afoul of the Constitution's ban on receiving "emoluments" from foreign governments.

Against that backdrop, Engel dismissed Neal's stated official rationale for seeking the returns -- that Congress needs them for an investigation into how the IRS audits and enforces federal tax laws against presidents -- as "pretextual," saying lawmakers instead wanted them for the political purpose of disclosing them. That purpose, he said, was not within Congress' legitimate constitutional authority.

The Trump administration and the president's personal lawyers have raised the "legitimate purpose" argument repeatedly as they have sought to parry Democratic demands for information related to not just Trump's finances but also issues ranging from the special counsel's Trump-Russia investigation to the granting of security clearances to close Trump associates.

Last month, the House passed a resolution that cleared the way for committees to file lawsuits asking a court to order the executive branch to comply with their subpoenas without further action on the full House floor. The Ways and Means Committee lawsuit for Trump's tax returns is the first exercise of that authority.

Some legal experts believe the battle could last well past the 2020 presidential election.

The case is Committee on Ways and Means v. U.S. Department of the Treasury, 19-cv-1974, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).

Information for this article was contributed by Nicholas Fandos and Charlie Savage of The New York Times; and by Joe Light, Andrew Harris and Laura Davison of Bloomberg News.

A Section on 07/03/2019

Print Headline: House sues two agencies to see Trump tax returns

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Comments

  • Skeptic1
    July 3, 2019 at 8:49 a.m.

    The Democrat Socialists all need to be sent packing. They have accomplished absolutely nothing since gaining the majority but fomenting hate and division. Let's take a look at the tax returns of Maxine Waters, Nadler, et.al. The American public deserves to see how our representatives that came into office with nothing became millionaires.

  • ARMNAR
    July 3, 2019 at 8:55 a.m.

    Do you deny that Trump repeatedly promised to release his returns following the election, Skeptic?

  • davisdds
    July 3, 2019 at 10:11 a.m.

    Let's take a look at each and every one of members of Congress's tax returns if this is going to be the case. I bet that would calm down the Democrat Socialists on wanting to see the President's tax return. Also throw in Hillary and Bill's.

  • Retirednwsman
    July 3, 2019 at 10:31 a.m.

    Davisdds...guess you don’t remember that Bill and Hillary released their tax returns when he was President. Trumpy is the first President that hasn’t released his tax returns since Nixon. Trumpy said he would, but he lied as usual.

  • RP57
    July 3, 2019 at 10:46 a.m.

    Yes, Trump has failed to release his tax returns as promised. Here are some other Presidential promises that weren't kept as documented by the Washington Post:
    .
    -Raise the minimum wage and index it to inflation
    -Close the prison at Guantanamo Bay
    -Create a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants
    -Restrict people moving between lobbying and working in the administration
    -Convene a bipartisan group of key lawmakers to foster better executive-legislative relations on foreign policy
    -End the practice of writing legislation behind closed doors
    -Close special-interest corporate loopholes
    -Enact a windfall profits tax on excessive oil company profits to provide a $1,000 emergency energy rebate to U.S. families
    -Establish a low national carbon-fuel standard
    -Make a sustained push to support Israel and achieve the goal of two states — a Jewish state in Israel and a Palestinian state
    -Ensure freedom to unionize and fight for passage of the Employee Free Choice Act
    -Double federal funding for basic research over 10 years (2009-2018)
    -Create 1 million new manufacturing jobs between 2012 and 2016
    -Double U.S. exports over the next five years (2013-2017)
    -End the war in Afghanistan in 2014
    -Lead the world in college graduates by 2020
    -Train 2 million Americans in a community college-business partnership
    .
    As you've probably guessed by now, those were all Obama. So I guess he lied as usual too?

  • RBear
    July 3, 2019 at 11:42 a.m.

    RP57 almost all of the "promises" you mentioned require congressional action. Guess what. Republicans blocked those promises. So, blame Republicans for promises not kept. SMH @ issue illiteracy of right wingers.

  • RP57
    July 3, 2019 at 12:09 p.m.

    “Almost all” isn’t “all” so you confirm he lied. Got it.

  • RBear
    July 3, 2019 at 12:18 p.m.

    RP57 that has probably got to be the dumbest statement you could make on the issue. Go crawl back under your troll bridge since it's pretty apparent you don't have much of a brain for thinking. I laugh every time I read one of your brainless comments. But, you're just par for the course for the Trump demographic. Issue illiterate and too dumb to recognize it.

  • GeneralMac
    July 3, 2019 at 12:31 p.m.

    RP57.......don't waste your time argueing with RBear.

    He once accused a poster of saying " majority" and after I pointed out the poster said " many", RBear refused to admit his MISTAKE and kept saying the words " many" and " majority" have the same meaning.

  • RP57
    July 3, 2019 at 1:01 p.m.

    The point is, you can pin "lies" on every POTUS in modern history regardless of party. But when the topic of Trump's tax returns come up the first response from the left is "He lied!!!!1" like it's something Trump invented. Just like a poster earlier in this thread.
    .
    Given the way the left has tried to overturn the 2016 election I don't blame him for not releasing his tax returns. He should fight it to the end and if a court forces him to so be it. But it's a no win for him to do it voluntarily.
    .
    First, the IRS audit issue. It is not out of the norm for the IRS to audit an individual and his businesses annually. With regards to what I expect is the complexity of his returns an audit for one year could take a long time. As it appears Trump's returns involve NOL carryovers, his audits would cover multiple years anyway. There is plenty of gray in the tax law and it is perfectly legal to take an aggressive position on returns as long as there is some basis in the tax code, regulations, or case law to support it. If in the end the taxpayer loses, it doesn't mean he's broken the law, he just owes tax, interest, and possibly penalties.
    .
    So if Trump a) released his 2017 return (most recent one to be filed if he extended 2018), b) it was under audit, and c) the audit resulted in changes to the return, he would have to disclose the changes. First, the original 2017 return would have already been beat to death by the left even if there was nothing wrong with it. But now, the IRS has changed it because of an audit! People who don't understand how tax law works would likely assume he'd done something wrong when in fact it happens all the time. Since Trump is still POTUS and has likely been on the IRS radar for years I'm going to assume he hasn't committed any impeachable offenses or tax fraud.
    .
    There is no smoking gun in Trump's tax returns just like there wasn't one in Mueller's report. That doesn't mean the left won't keep on trying to pull a coup and undo the 2016 (soon 2020) election.
    .
    See how I did that without insulting anyone or calling people names? It can be done.

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